Subtitle: Imagination taking power

What keeps me going?

Permaculture Magazine recently asked me to write something about how I maintain momentum and energy over time in dark and difficult times.  The piece appears in the latest edition, available here, alongside another article about what a truly local beer might look like.  

There are a few things that keep me going through these difficult times and which keep me focused on what I can do to help.  The first is that you never know where the tipping points are.  You never know who will see a project you are doing and be inspired, who might hear the story of what you’re doing, and where it might go.  One Transition group in Berlin planted 26 fruit trees in their local park.  A year later their Council passed a law to say all new Council landscaping had to be edible species.  Things can tip, and they do so unpredictably.

Another is that we have no idea how things are going to turn out.  Remarkable things have happened in the past, and this is our moment to step up and do remarkable things.  The fact that we don’t know how it’s going to turn out is no reason not to dedicate our lives to ambitious change.  Indeed it makes it all the more intriguing!

The third is that things are moving so fast.  In my experience, most of the doors that I imagine to be closed to me actually, when I push them, tend to swing open.  Businesses, Councils, individuals, are hungry for this stuff in a way they never were before.  You’re not a freak any more (well, you may be, but in this context you’re not…).

I try very hard to put firebreaks into my life.  My family time, time with my kids, evenings, weekends, are ring-fenced and sacrosanct.  I try to have measures in place to minimise the risk of burnout, being open to seeking support and talking to someone if I feel I am at risk of it.  I make time to read, to cook good food, to go away with my wife sometimes, to draw, paint, garden, spend time with friends.  If we are burnt out, exhausted, stressed, an absent parent, then we are not in service to the work we are doing.  Seek, and insist upon, balance.

I have also come to also have a deep respect for the need to develop a healthy group culture in projects I am part of.  Groups that can be effective because they have developed a level of trust and shared culture through good and effective facilitation.  I have been deeply fortunate to work in Transition Network, an organisation which has placed such emphasis on building a healthy group culture and on good process.  It sustains me on a deep level to work with people with whom I have, over time, developed such a deep sense of trust.

I have the huge pleasure to visit lots of Transition groups and to hear the stories of what they are doing.  It is always very powerful for me to see Transition in action, to be inspired by the amazing creativity it unleashes.  At its heart, it’s about the level of inspiration I get from story, and being able to share those stories with others.  I’ve come to see what I do as being largely about storytelling, and as a speaker, telling stories and speaking from the heart are a far more powerful way to engage people, and to sustain yourself, than dry graphs and bullet points.

Ultimately what sustains me is a rather heady cocktail of stubbornness, optimism, a strong faith in the human spirit and in other people, rage, a deep wish to live a life of service to others, the thrill of seeing people step up and take their lives into their own hands, all coupled with a deep sense of urgency.  It works for me.

Photo credit: Arlo Murray Hopkins


  1. Kirsten Roess
    April 29, 2017

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts in these trouble And worring times
    We must try to keep some Kind of
    optimistic spirit
    And being connected with other Is one of them

  2. John Nzira
    May 3, 2017

    Wonderful thoughts especially your approach to transition network groups, whereby you listen to their storys and work / support within their context. Thus respect and trusting them, you are a great leader. I also see this working with me in Africa, good permaculture results are found through mutual understanding and trust local farmers and their initiatives. The challenge we always get is to get doors open for us to improve the quality of permaculture projects within communities.

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